Making Every Word Count

What a gift it would be if every person had someone in their lives who said: “Tell me what I should know about you”…and then really listened to the answer; be it a doctor, a teacher, a parent, a friend, or a therapist. Mostly we are too busy to listen to one another’s stories…we read one another’s ‘spin’ on Facebook, we text each other ‘the bottom line’ …it is the difference between hearing about a sunset, and actually witnessing it.

When someone comes to see me for Narrative work, I begin by asking: “Tell me the story of you.” And then I listen. And not unlike encountering a piece of music, I listen equally to the words they use to language the experience of their own lives, and to the silences between the words. They weave together in a subtle interplay of summersaults…one illuminating the other.

If it is true that there ‘has never been a people without a narrative’, there has also never been a narrative without a listener. Make time to sit with someone you love this week; ask them what you should know about their week, andreally listen to the answer. To the words, and the feelings behind the words. And then sit and reflect in silence, together, for even a moment, upon how it felt to be fully engaged. It’s a practice, and it will take some!

Giving Pain A Narrative

In an article entitled Post-Prozac Nationin the magazine section of the Sunday New York Times yesterday, Helen Mayberg, a neuroscientist at Emory University referred to depression as, ‘Emotional pain without a context.’

It is this very predicament that speaks to the power of Narrative Therapy, which seeks to frame, and then re-frame, the story – or context – of what people are feeling. In the article, Mayberg connects this loss of context with malfunctions in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory. It is interesting to note that research in other quarters on ‘Reminiscence Therapy’, (Brooker and Duce, 200), has demonstrated that seniors who reminisce, display greater well-being than their non-reminiscing counterparts. Thus the power and importance of (re)connecting people to their own narratives.

As a Narrative Constructivist clinician, with a background in playwriting, I like to collaborate with my clients in a meaning-making exercise that uses deep dramaturgical questioning.  This evokes a narrative arc, based on key phrases that the clients use, right from the first meeting. In fact, I begin every initial session by asking each client to tell me ‘the story of them’;  beginning with the most important thing they feel I should know. Usually this first thing that they tell me, or the way they tell it, provides a window into the most wounded part of their souls.

I like to think that as clinicians we serve as dramaturges (or midwives) to the sacred texts our clients bring. That we not only need to listen with three ears, but to ask the right questions…those that will help them to unravel the riddles that may be dividing them, from themselves. Once the context is recovered and reorganized, the meaning of the depressed life force becomes evident, and begins to unfreeze.